Watch Out for Blue-Green Algae

by Safety Connection

June 8, 2022

The summer swimming season just started, and already some Madison beaches are closed due to blue-green algae blooms. Both humans and pets can get sick from exposure to blue-green algae. Even boating, kayaking or water skiing in a lake or pond with blue-green algae can expose you to the toxins.

Common human symptoms from exposure to blue-green algae include sore throat, cough, congestion, difficulty breathing and eye irritation. Other symptoms include headache, abdominal pain, diarrhea and vomiting. Dermatological symptoms like itchy red skin, blisters or hives can also occur.

Dogs are even more at risk than humans because they tend to swallow water and don’t need to ingest much of it to get sick. They can also get exposed by licking their fur after swimming in infected water.

Public Health Madison & Dane County (PHMDC) monitors certain beaches for E. coli bacteria and blue-green algae. You can find that list here. On the left side of the page you can also subscribe to have beach quality updates emailed to you.

Because it’s impossible to tell from sight whether toxic blue-green algae is present, it’s always safest to shower off with soap and water after swimming in a lake. And don’t swim, boat or fish in or around algal scums.

Some signs of blue-green algae include the presence of fluorescent colors like green, blue, red, white or brown. Some people have described it as looking like latex paint floating on the water. The blooms can also make the water murky and give off a foul odor.

PHMDC says if you think you’ve been exposed to blue-green algae, contact your health care provider or Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222). If your pet has been exposed, call your vet.

And “When in doubt, stay out!” The Wisconsin Department of Health Services advises, “The safest thing to do is to treat every algal bloom as if it could be dangerous.”

Related Articles